Since it was announced a few weeks ago that Jenny McCarthy was going to be the new co-host on the ABC “newsmagazine” show The View, there has been a vigorous outpouring of outrage (and some support). In fact, there has been so much written in newspapers, columns, op-eds and blogs that I wondered why I should bother adding to this barrage, especially since I don’t really have any new facts to bring to light.
But I decided to jump into the fray anyway. Just because there may be a thousand voices out there already, doesn’t mean that number one thousand and one shouldn’t be added to the mix, especially because I have three very young grandchildren of vaccination ages, and I feel very strongly about this subject; to sit on the sidelines and not contribute my own voice seems hypocritical.
Why the public outcry? Simple.
McCarthy continues to be the pin-up girl, er, I mean poster girl for the anti-vaccination movement, and incredibly she continues to tout the supposed linkage between vaccinations and autism, a link for which there is not a shred of scientific evidence, and that is largely based on the work of a thoroughly discredited former Doctor, Andrew Wakefield. I say “former” since he has been stripped of his medical license and barred from the practice of medicine in the UK once it was shown that he actually falsified the data upon which this whole house of cards is largely built.
As such, there has been a huge hue and cry over Ms. McCarthy’s very dubious appointment to co-host The View, since it is feared that giving her an even bigger national platform to spout her anti-vaccine nonsense could lead to an even bigger following for her quackery, and of course that could be very dangerous. We are already seeing increases in preventable diseases as too many parents start to doubt the medical facts and listen instead to the crap that McCarthy and her followers spew.
There is a lot that has been written and documented showing that a) vaccination rates in developed countries are going down, in some cases plummeting, and b) rates of childhood diseases, especially measles, is demonstrably and frighteningly on the rise as a (no doubt) direct consequence. If you want to read more about that, here are a few places to start:
Measles is back. It had help (Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail, July 2103)
Asking for an outbreak of preventable diseases (Macleans Magazine, January, 2012)
Measles outbreak triggers fresh emphasis on MMR vaccinations (The Guardian, April 2013)
Measles Outbreaks 2013 (About.com Pediatrics, earlier this week)
In a recent (July 27, 2013) Letter to the Editor of Globe and Mail, Lisa Wolff, the Director, Policy and Education, UNICEF Canada wrote (in response to the Margaret Wente column cited above):
Margaret Wente is right to raise an alarm about the immunization of Canada’s children.
Unicef’s recent Report Card found that, at 84 per cent, Canada’s immunization rate is 28th of 29 industrialized nations and it’s been falling for a decade. We need a national immunization strategy to ensure Canadians have the information they need. We’re putting a lot of our kids at risk of preventable diseases that can be devastating.
Places in Africa, such as Tunisia and Eritrea, now have higher immunization rates than Canada’s.
Canadian pediatricians and governments invest in and provide easy access to immunization because vaccines save lives. It is why the United Nations Children’s Fund is the world’s largest purchaser of vaccines for children – 1.9 billion doses in 96 countries last year – and will go anywhere to save a child’s life.
Places in Africa, such as Tunisia and Eritrea, now have higher immunization rates than Canada’s. Older Canadians remember the death and disability that polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and even measles can bring.
Toronto Public Health uncharacteristically got very proactive in calling for Jenny McCarthy to be dumped for the view due to her opinions via this tweet:
— Toronto PublicHealth (@TOPublicHealth) July 22, 2013
They also showed infographics like this which are self-explanatory, unless you are an anti-vaccine quack of course…
And, if you want to see a really interesting, albeit frightening live statistic, that drives home the point, I invite you to Anti-Vaccine Body Count.
So if wasn’t abundantly obvious before why so many of us are in an uproar over Jenny McCarthy’s ascendancy to be a co-host of a prime time news show, it should be crystal clear now. The anti-vaccine movement is creating great harm, people (mostly children) are needlessly getting ill, and worse, dying from entirely preventable diseases, and the anti-vaccine scaremongering that McCarty and her ilk are promoting is at least partly, if not substantially, to blame.
This is a dangerous woman who should not be given a national platform to preach her lies and misinformation.
A number of my personal friends have themselves blogged about this looming problem (for example Kat Armstrong of Celebritease: Canadian Petition to Scrap Jenny McCarthy From The View and Leslie Kennedy of the Baby Post: What is The View Thinking? and Toronto Public Health Urges ABC to Fire Jenny McCarthy.
While Kat and Leslie are as vehement as I am about this bone-headed move by ABC, it is abundantly clear from a number of their readers with whom I have engaged online, that there is a very substantial cross-section of the population who mistrust science, do not think their doctors are telling them the truth and think that Jenny is a hero and should be afforded an opportunity to speak her mind.
For example, one reader suggested that even if there is no good proof that vaccines cause autism, there is no proof that they don’t. For the record, as a scientist, I would LOVE to understand how one goes about to “prove” a “negative”. I’m afraid it doesn’t (and can’t) work like that.
Many people have also jumped from the (supposed) autism link to the idea that vaccines can have side effects and therefore can be harmful. They cite adverse reaction registers and the like as “proof” that vaccines cause harm.
My answer to that is that I do not think anyone, anywhere, anytime has ever suggested that there is not a possibility of a negative or adverse reaction to a vaccine (as with ANY other med). Thankfully they are rare but they do happen. But the benefits of vaccination so far outweigh the risks that it is a no-brainer to get your kids vaccinated.
That said, autism is NOT one of those adverse effects, there is (over and over and over again) no proof of that association. Jenny McCarthy can shout it from the rooftops in Times Square but it doesn’t make it so.
Another common view is that Jenny is entitled to her opinions like anyone else. Of course she is. But when it comes to matters like life and death and public health and safety, it is not sufficient to “have your own opinion”. If you are given a national/international platform then I will argue that you have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to speak to facts, not opinions.
If you do not, will not or can not speak to the FACTS then you need to shut your pie hole. Opinions are for cocktail parties. Public health decisions need to based on real evidence and not on airheads who have “opinions”.
But here is where I have another big concern. I am very worried that I, like so many others before me, have actually played right into ABC’s hands. We have all heard the adage that even bad publicity is still publicity.
The View is one of the only shows featuring an all-female panel discussing the news. Why do they need a pretty nincompoop?
Or when you see thoughtful analysis from people like Michael Specter at the New Yorker about Jenny McCarthy’s Dangerous Views you have to wonder if we are giving Jenny and ABC and The View a huge boost that we don’t intend. It is a hard line to know when to speak out and give wanted attention vs. when speaking out actually gives more unwanted attention to the issue.
And all of this is indeed free publicity for McCarthy, the View and ABC. By all this constant haranguing about Jenny and the show, ABC must all be licking its lips right now waiting to see how many brand new viewers are going to show up in September just to see what all the fuss is about.
There is a contrary point of view that I think is fair to outline as well. An example is the article by Tom McCarthy [no relation] in the Guardian last month. In this piece entitled The View: a good place to debunk Jenny McCarthy’s autism quackery, he makes the point that:
There’s an argument to be made that a good way to expose the plain wrongness of McCarthy’s dangerous beliefs to the audience that most needs to hear it is to televise her on weekday mornings arguing about it with Whoopi Goldberg and, yes, Barbara Walters. The View could in fact shine a much-needed corrective light on the ignorance that McCarthy has otherwise been able to peddle unrebutted in a book and in appearances on less combative TV shows.
The View comes in for a lot of flak among people who don’t watch it for being lightweight or cloying. But it can be much more than that. It’s a “high-risk” place to display stupidity, because the “sharp-tongued” co-hosts will cut you, as Mitt Romney had the good sense to realize (if he demonstrated less wit in not keeping the assessment to himself)….
… If, however, McCarthy’s moving future descriptions of her son’s condition and her family’s struggle on The View become attempts on her part to spread flimflammery, there’s a good chance she’ll find herself alone on one side of an argument that she loses, badly.
The scene could make for a headline or a YouTube clip that would be the best debunking yet of McCarthy’s bosh. And that could help set viewers straight.
I have my doubts. I have watched a bit of the View from time to time and I find it to be a hard show to take too seriously. The overall tone (and decibel level) of the show bothers me, and the almost constant caterwauling of some of the hosts is not the stuff of 60 Minutes, for example. My fear is that Jenny will fit right in, and she will not get called out by her co-hosts on her incredulous beliefs.
After all, let’s face it, she’s there to boost the ratings and yes, to provide a bit of controversy since that sells. True, if you have too much controversy sponsors may walk. But if you shoot her down and shut her down totally and ruin the tension they have worked so hard to create, then she may as well have stayed home.
That said, I hope Mr. McCarthy is right. In any case it better to have a hopeful perspective than not. Time will tell.
The final point I will make, however, is that even if Ms. McCarthy never utters a single word about vaccinations in her entire (I hope VERY short) tenure on the show, some huge irreparable damage will already have been done. By putting her on as a co-host of a national show whose executive producer is Barbara Walters and that “purports” to be a legitimate news-magazine of sorts, and airing it daily in prime time to a large audience, Jenny will have already been given an implicit validity and authority.
It is very difficult to take back the damage that the Gwyneth Paltrow’s, the Suzanne Somers’, the Jenny McCarthy’s and even the Dr. Oz’s of celebrity-land have perpetrated on all of us. I have written about Dr. Oz as a celebrity run amok in my Cancer Research 101 blog already.
Plain and simple they are all quacks and I call shame on The View for giving one of them this platform to (potentially) spew lies.
Or at the very least to validate the lies she has already spewed.
Who’s next – Wayne LaPierre of the NRA taking over for Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes?